What have we learned about environmental relationships?

Let’s assess and evaluate how well the goals of a liberalizing general education have been accomplished through conventional instruction.

Participate in the attached exercise to find an answer to this question. (Taken from the Environmental Relationships Test (ERT) by Robert L. Arnold.) The results of this test will help reveal how much we have learned about the environment in which we live.

Directions: Imagine that you have taken a huge knife and cut out a block of earth several miles square that includes your home. Lift the block to eye level. Draw a three dimensional picture (a model) of what can be seen from the side and top of the block of earth. Illustrate and label each item placed on the model.

This version could resemble something like the one below:

(Note: A model is a representation of any field of inquiry. With each exposure to new informationchanges will occur that can be reflected in subsequent models. Models have four important functions for learners: (1) For organizing one’s thoughts, (2) For stimulating further inquiry, (3) For measuring progress, and (4) For predicting events.)

Start with the bedrock structure that is found in your backyard; one by one select and illustrate on the model the essence of each of the ten variables that exist in your environment found on the following list. Place one or more items from each category on your model. Leave blank any items about which you know nothing or very little.

1. Bedrock: Sandstone, quartzite, limestone, marble, granite, shale, slate, gneiss, conglomerate or any other rocks you might know about. (Note you may add items consistent within each category.)

2. Minerals: Copper, zinc, talc, oil, iron, coal, gold, silver, plutonium, garnet etc.

3. Relief features: Mountain, hill, valley, plateau, plain, undulating-terrain etc.

4. Soil types: Sand, clay, loam, humus, gravel, sandy loam, clay loam etc.

5. Water and Drainage: River, brook, creek, pond, lake, ocean, gulf, sea, poorly drained, excessively drained, water cycle etc.

6. Vegetation: Moss, lichen, shrubs, maple, birch, hemlock, pine, palm, grass, tamarack, cedar, broadleaf evergreen, redwood, poplar etc.

7. Animals: Spider, flea, mosquito, tarantula, deer, bear, fox, rabbit, antelope, lion, elephant, crocodile, raccoon, ground hog, trout, bass, pike etc.

8. Weather/climate: Temperature, humidity, thunder, lightning, wind, rain, tornado, hurricane, pressure, jet stream, temperate, torrid, arctic, tropical etc.

9. Location: North, south, east, west, longitude, latitude etc.

10. Manmade objects and alterations: Buildings, machines, landscape alterations, roads, bridges, airports, electric light poles, cable networks, oil rigs etc.

To complete the system add to the above listing the social/cultural factors with the economic and political realities.

After building your model consider the results of injecting chemicals or changing the drainage patterns or clear-cutting the vegetation etc.

Send the scanned results of this test by email to: and receive an evaluation of your model. This should inform you about possible outcomes from our educational systems.

What have we learned?

A debate is happening about what is meant by general education (a common core), what standards should be applied and how learning outcomes can be assessed and evaluated.

Assessing and evaluating the outcomes from “training” can presumably be accomplished with a test since they are thought to contain precise and observable behaviors. Learning outcomes that relate to general education, however, contain hypotheses testing, validation of concepts, subjective judgments, and individual decision making. These all rightfully reflect differences in perceptions held by individual learners. A model that illustrates parts of a system in a manner that can be validated and the relationships between those parts represents the standard for excellence. The Environmental Relationships Test (ERT) is a prototype of an assessment and evaluation system with empirical grounding in systems- in-transition. (Bela Banathy)

“Systems design” is an individualized process of constructing systems-in-transition based on empirical evidences. This process is open-ended and reflective of individual differences in perception. It is a process that is definable, specific, integrative and effective in producing a liberating general education.

“Systems analysis” is applied in assessment and evaluation of learning outcomes. Learning outcomes such as those revealed with the Environmental Relationships Test are displayed in the systems designed by an individual. The key to the analysis of all systems is contained in its definition. A system is a set of interrelated parts that form a unified whole. All the parts need to be accurately identified and their dynamic relationships understood to demonstrate mastery.

What we know that can be validated regarding the digestive system, the braking system, the school system, the environmental system or numerous other systems of our universe can be accurately revealed through systems analysis even while they are being developed. When models of one’s insights are constructed that feature graphic and descriptive language, by applying the following criteria the level of competency can be determined for each learner. 1) Are all the parts of the system included? 2) Are the parts defined accurately and in detail? 3) Are the relationships between the parts displayed in an accurate or at least plausible arrangement? 4) Are the consequences of changes identified for any of the variables of the system? 5) Can a revised model based on these changes be constructed that is valid? 6) Is our understanding of other systems found in other places and times dependent upon a validated and internalized local system?

How competent are we in constructing an accurate image of an environmental system we participate in every day of our lives? How many years have we spent as a student participating in a process of conventional instruction about these matters? Did we get our monies worth? Have we paid attention to what Whitehead told us many years ago that “what is needed is an eye for the whole chessboard, for the bearing of one set of ideas on another?” What does a passing grade indicate on a standardized test in earth science? Are the techniques of the ERT using systems analysis more accurate and authentic than a standardized, one-size-fits-all test?

The results of your test will help answer these questions.